Yesterday two years ago saw the passing of Dan Kneen during Qualifying to the Isle of Man TT races.
A night, I probably never forget.
Roll back to the 2017 fortnight. A lad here in Germany, who was spannering for the Penz13 team at the time, had provided me a stay in Douglas at the bottom end of Broadway, just opposite the Villa Marina. Said lad mates would have a bbq once each week of the fortnight and on both occasions parts of the Penz13 team as well as Dan would appear as well. The second bbq, Wednesday night of race week, became a real happy one as Dan just had achieved his first TT podium in that days superstock race.
Following the 2017 TT fortnight, I immediatly had returned to that years Manx Grand Prix, where I became a full on Mountain Course marshal with the IOMTTMA.
Fast forward to 2018.
Since I wanted to photograph as well as marshaling, I had seperated the fortnight into two chunks. Qualifying week marshaling, race week photographing was the plan. To get to my preferred marshaling point at Quarry Bends just before the halfway marker, I had to sign on for shuttle transfer which usually leaves the grandstand 2 hours before roads close. Before the shuttle left for Wednesday night Qualifying, I tried to get ahold of Michael Dunlop at the Tyco BMW awning for an autograph on a Tyco fleece I had bought at Frohburg back in 2016.
Unfortunately, I couldn't find Michael but Dan was there beaming as ever and signed me that fleece after some trouble with my not working white pen markers. I clearly remember Hector Neill sitting in the corner of the awning and smiling from ear to ear. I thanked Dan and wished him well for the session, then left for the shuttle.
Up at Quarry Bends, roads closed at 6pm, as ever. At 6:27pm we got the 'Bikes into sector message' from Ballaugh Bridge, start of Sector 7.
The first bike into view was Dan who looked pretty aggressive and he was ahead of a pack of four or five by a couple of seconds.
About 2 and a half minutes later the dreaded red flag command for an incident in sector 8 Churchtown came up on the radio and my brain immediatly started its math, with Dan as the result. I felt like beaten into the stomache.
You don't wish it anyone, but maybe my math wasn't quite that correct. We saw the ambulance helicopter landing over in Ramsey direction but never departing. Then another message on radio, that bikes would be sent back against racing direction.
The engine noise got louder and the bikes were probably nearing from Sulby Crossroads but still out of view when another message set us into shock and horror. "Course Inspection Car into sector"
Red flag out and gate open all happened in a matter of seconds but whether the first pack of riders ignored us or if we were too late will remain a mystery. We managed to pull the the second group of riders.
Another radio message a few seconds later let us know that there has been a serious incident involving the course car at Ballacrye, a mile before us and only just out of sight. It turned out that the course car took Steve Mercer full on.
When I returned to paddock that night, the overall mood was low since news of Dans passing had already made the round, and it was drizzling down, for the only time during the entire fortnight. It wasn't cold though and I had two glases of whiskey. One for Dan, and one for Steve, hoping that at least Steve would make a full recovery. Over the reminder of the fortnight hung some strange mood everywhere.
When I returned home from the fortnight, I immediatly noticed a picture of Dan on my stairway wall which he kindly signed during the 2017 Manx GP. When I had left to TT it had a small nudge on the covering glasplate but now it had developed a full on crack from right bottom corner to almost middle of the right side. A bit bewildered I asked dad whether he had noticed something and he told me that he heard a strange noise Wednesday night but couldn't find its cause. It was the night Dan passed away.
Ride in peace, Dan
On The Pipe Boy
left: Dan on the way to podium, SSTK TT2017; right: Classic Lightweight Race, Manx Grand Prix 2017